Pete Savage has been the head coach at Reno High since 1995. Under his leadership, the Huskies have won 12 Northern Nevada Regional championships and a a state title. He's won more than 750 games at the high school level and more than a thousand at the American Legion level. More than 200 players he's coached have moved on to the collegiate level.
Inside Pitch: You've had a high-level program for a long time, and you've sent a lot of your players to college ball. Is that your goal as a coach?
Pete Savage: Absolutely not. Our main goal is to teach life lessons through baseball. College baseball is just a byproduct of our process. Obviously it’s great when guys move on, college baseball is great – but I think it is our responsibility as high school coaches is to prepare our players for college baseball if that's one of their goals
IP: Let's jump into pillars of success for your program…
PS: Our pillars spell out our mascot: HUSKIES. The first one is hustle. It's way more than just running a hard 90; it's showing up to practice, being prepared in the classroom, paying attention to details.
‘U’ stands for unity. Be the best teammate you can be. You have to be a good team player to be successful in our program. Selfish people, lazy people just simply do not make it. They'll get weeded out.
‘S’ stands for sacrifice. Our players are going to be a part of a team the rest of their lives. A part of their family down the road, working for a company in their job, interacting in a team at the church. So basically every aspect of people's lives, there's teams within teams. And so our goal is to teach them how to be a great team player, starting with Reno High Baseball.
‘K’ stands for kaizen, which is a Japanese word. That's a driving force of everyday purpose in our program. And by that I mean, hey we're going to get better at every single practice. Every time we're together as an organization or as a team, we expect them to get .275% better every day. If you multiply that out by the days in the year it makes 100%.
‘I’ stands for integrity. Do what is right all the time. You have to be committed to excellence in every part of your life.
‘E’ stands for earn it. Be a team that earns what it has. And we expect our players to be grateful for what we have, for their teammates, our facilities, our parents, our school.
‘S’ stands for stronger. So we want players that are physically, mentally and emotionally stronger. The weight room piece, teaching the mental aspects of baseball, and then the emotional aspects of baseball. We work really hard on that.
IP: What’s the perfect travel coach-high school coach/private instructor relationship look like?
PS: If everybody has one purpose in mind: benefit the players. We make an effort to always put our players first, develop their personal skills before their baseball skills. It's important that all of us work together for the betterment of the players.
The money part is a difference maker for me. I've never taken a nickel to coach because I believe it's about giving back to the kids. And high school coaches, they don't make any money anyways. And there are people that are in it to make money, and people that are in it for the kids. And I think you can do both, but it’s got to be tough when those things get intertwined. I just believe that if we always put the student athlete first, and what's best for his needs, and best for his development, then everything's going to be fine.
IP: How do you develop the relationships you have with your players’ parents?
PS: We had a great exercise a few years ago where our kids wrote down what the pillars of our program look like from a parent point of view. What does it mean to be for a Reno High baseball parent? It may be make sure you come to all our games and root for all of our players. Just don't root for me. Work the snack bar. Help with fundraising. All those things. We gave that to our parents at our parent meeting, and it became clear what the players wanted them to do as facilitators of their development.
IP: What's your plan when weather hits and it's inclement just in terms of being able to get outside?
PS: Yeah, so one of the things we hold in high regard is our ability to practice. We are fortunate to have an indoor facility, but if we have to hand shovel our field, we'll hand shovel our field. I think it was three years ago, we literally got about 24 inches of snow over Christmas break. So we shoveled it off our field. It took us three days. Our players did that with wheelbarrows and shovels and pickups and everything else, just to practice on that fourth day. We're not people that are just going to sit around and wait for it to melt.
Dealing with weather and doing real work are great team builders. Your shortstop may be a terrific player, but how is he in the middle of day two of the snow removal? Is he a hard worker? Does he motivate his teammates to help? So you can see a lot about an athlete's character and work ethic in a non-baseball environment. What type of snow removal guy is he?
IP: Could you address your background, really just with your family as it relates to baseball...
PS: My father L.J. Savage and my mom Eileen Savage raised us the right way. We were raised with the viewpoint of sacrificing for others. I can remember going back to four or five years old how much we loved playing baseball, and it was trying to replicate 162-game season in our backyard to obviously playing youth baseball on the way up, and then all three of us- me, my brother Len, and John- we all played at Reno High. But my dad taught us just to love the game and respect the game.
And every year he used to take us to a San Francisco Giants three-game series. We loved that trip- first people in the stadium and the last ones to leave. Nowadays, my older brother and Len and I run the Savage and Sons, which has been around since 1893. My dad worked here for 58 years. My brother and I, Len, have been here for nearly 40 years.
I've been fortunate enough to be married to my wonderful wife Debbie, who’s never once told me, ‘you have to be home at this time.’ She’s very supportive of our program. That's a key piece to being a long-term coach, is to have a successful marriage.
IP: When did you get the feeling that your younger brother John would eventually be a coach as well?
PS: He was the best athlete in the family. He was dominant in high school. He threw three consecutive no-hitters. I'll never forget on his graduation night when the New York Yankees called our house and told him he got drafted in the sixth round. But the thing was, John and I have always been so focused on baseball... we used to organize teams and leagues even outside an organized Little League or Babe Ruth event. We used to have our own stuff going on in the neighborhood.
It's like coaching is such a rewarding profession and you get to impact so many people in such a positive way. I'm just very grateful for the impact that baseball and coaching's had on my life, and I can't thank John enough for the impact he's had on my life. And my brother Len, We're very close. Like I said, Len and I work really extremely close in the business, and John and I work extremely close in the baseball world. It’s great.
IP: What have you taken from him, a high-level NCAA Div. I coach, to help your pitchers in high school?
PS: Pretty much everything! When you see a UCLA pitcher, there are a lot of defining characteristics. John did a couple clinics at the ABCA, one of them was called successful characteristics of a DI pitcher- and there were one hundred bullet points. And we try to implement all of them, I can tell you that. Some are pitching strategy, arm care, development, long toss, mechanics, mental aspects of pitching. There's just so much to pitching, it's obviously the most important part of the game.
There was a story a few years ago where I thought a kid was physically capable of playing for him. So he came and watched us play in a Southern California tournament, and this kid was great. He could run. He could hit with power. He was a really good defensive outfielder. And I thought he could be really good for UCLA. So John comes and watches us play. And afterwards... And the player got three hits, stole two bases, made a diving catch. Did everything physically he was supposed to do.
And I said after the game, I said, "Hey what did you think?" And he said, "I can't recruit him." And I go, "What do you mean you can't recruit him? Because he's such a talented player." He said, "I didn't like how he interacted with his teammates in the dugout."